The Way West
by Mona Mansour
directed by Steppenwolf ensemble member Amy Morton
originally produced at Steppenwolf Theatre Company,
April 3, 2014
through June 8, 2014
In a modern-day California town that’s seen better days, Mom regales her two squabbling adult daughters with tall tales of death-defying pioneers crossing the western frontier, accompanied by banjos and campfire music. Thirty-year old Amanda, who is trying to brazen out a life of her own in Chicago, has come back to help sort out the family finances. Matters turn out to be a bigger mess than Amanda anticipated, with her younger sister Michele who stayed behind running up her mom’s credit card on useless purchases and Mom investing in her friend’s ill-planned business enterprises. Amanda calls upon the help of an ex-boyfriend to sort things out and realizes that she’s in over her head: she may still have feelings for said ex-boyfriend; her family’s finances have reached a critical low; and her own personal finances are more precarious than she’s let on. The further they slip, the more the trio relies on tales of the western frontier to handle their hardship. Peppered with original prairie songs, this hilarious and heartbreaking play about today’s American family explores the mixed blessing of our great frontier spirit, which has fueled both self-delusion and survival.
The Way West addresses with great humor, insight, and a uniqueness of form, the narrative of American progress and the pressing issue of class in America. The play has great relevancy to our current social moment and the potential to contribute to the canon as a work that speaks to social and economic issues that are compellingly relevant to our national discourse. Steppenwolf is committed to a civic discourse on how we live now.
We are confident that Mona Mansour is a playwright who will benefit greatly from the artistic home of Steppenwolf Theatre. Mona writes beautifully for actors—the stories she tells are psychologically rich, socially relevant, and deeply felt. Her background includes time training and pursuing a life as an actor, which gives her writing a great sensitivity to the perspective of an ensemble. Her diverse background—daughter of a Lebanese father and American mother—gives her a unique perspective on American identity that is also apparent in her work.
We are particularly committed to introducing under-represented voices to the discourse of American theater. Female writers and directors deserve greater exposure. To quote playwright and activist Marsha Norman, “A theater that is missing the work of women is missing half the story, half the canon, half the life of our time. That is the situation we have now.” That The Way West concentrates on the experience of four women in the economic downturn of contemporary America, reinforces the value of presenting Mona's work. She takes on the issue of class, another under-represented topic in the American theater, and the twinning of gender and class strikes a particularly piquant note in a season that interrogates what it means to “get ahead.”
We are committed to supporting Mona Mansour as a unique voice in the American theater, deserving of a wider audience. In keeping with our best practices in new play development we are pairing Mona with director and ensemble member Amy Morton. Our intention in doing so is to ensure the success of The Way West and its potential to enter the American repertoire; as well as to advance the career of its remarkable writer.
One of the unique aspects of Steppenwolf’s new play development efforts is our ability to pair accomplished ensemble members with playwrights in the process of creating new work. Tracy Letts, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Lisa D'Amour and Bruce Norris are outstanding examples of the success of these relationships. In each case, the playwright has been supported by collaboration with ensemble directors and actors. By providing playwrights an artistic home, the writer is assured of repeatable creative relationships. The conversation that can be obtained among collaborators who share a history and a language facilitates a rich and confident development process.
The Way West is a particularly ambitious and audacious undertaking for us, requiring significant development within a short timeframe leading up to its production. We had been tracking Mona Mansour’s work for some time when she sent us The Way West for possible inclusion in our 2013 First Look Repertory of New Work. Inspired by the script, we asked ensemble member Amy Morton to look at it as a candidate for our 2013/14 subscription season. Amy then arranged to meet with Mona in New York to discuss a possible collaboration to further develop the play for production on our main stage. Confident in their rapport, we agreed to a pre-production workshop for the play and, with Amy committed to direct it, to schedule The Way West on our 2013/14 season. We have since committed to a second development workshop as well as an additional week of rehearsal which is being made possible by our Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award.
Our willingness to commit to the development of a new play in a timely manner and to program the work on our most prominent producing platform speaks to our philosophy of new play development; to Steppenwolf’s unique resources to make it possible; and to our confidence in the capacity of the play and this playwright to engage multigenerational audiences–our own, as well as future audiences beyond Chicago.
One of the things that excites me most about The Way West is that it’s a comic form in many ways—with these pioneer tales and these songs of the American West. But it gets right to the heart of who we are as Americans. What animates us? What responsibility do we have as we move forward? What does it mean to always feel there’s a new day?
-Martha Lavey, Artistic Director, Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Our Edgerton New American Play Award will support an additional week of rehearsal of The Way West in 2014. This will afford the cast and creative team critical time to bring all of the production elements, including original music that is yet to be composed, together as we ready the play for its premiere.
Director: Steppenwolf ensemble member Amy Morton
Set Design: Kevin Depinet
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Sound Design: Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
Projections: Michael Tutaj